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Curses on the McInerney family of Co Clare: A folktale from Sixmilebridge
by Luke McInerney


Folktales of Killone

Connor Ryan’s folktale has resonance in a tale recorded by John O’Donovan in 1839 for the parish of Killone. According to O’Donovan the Killone Lough opposite the Augustinian convent was believed to be enchanted and that a town existed below the waters to be seen every seven years.[87] O’Donovan recites another tale that an O’Brien fishing at the lough caught a mermaid and stole her home. A fool in O’Brien’s house scalded the mermaid with boiling water, to which she screamed and headed for the lough, not without cursing:

Filedhan bhradráin on sruith,
File gan fuil gan feoil,
Gur ba mar sin imtheochas siol mBriain,
Na ndeasacha fiadh as Chilleóin.

[As the return of the salmon from the stream,
A return without blood or flesh,
May such be the departure of the O’Briens,
Like ears of wild corn from Killeoin].[88]

The above folktale, also from the first half of the nineteenth century, has two important themes. First, the analogy of a salmon returning to water heralding the departure of the O’Brien family is also present in the folktale copied by Connor Ryan. Second, the reference to Killone as an O’Brien possession occurs in both folktales. It is possible that both folktales derive from the same source. According to Westropp several variations exist in a similar tale told in 1876 that a mermaid used to swim up a stream that flowed under the cellars of Newhall at Killone in order to steal wine. An O’Brien threw boiling water over her and her blood ran down the stream and reddened the lough and she wailed:

As the mermaid goes on the sea,
So shall the race of O’Briens pass away
Till they leave Killone in wild weeds.[89]

The similarity between these tales and the folktale copied by Connor Ryan in 1825 suggests a shared origin given their focus on the O’Brien gentry of Killone. Indeed the last passage in Connor Ryan’s transcribed folktale alludes to this connection, suggesting that ‘St Catherine [was] transformed into a mermaid recited and credited by some’. This passage probably refers to corrupt versions of the folktale recited in popular memory in the nineteenth century.

The folktale is unique and probably originated from a historical dispute over land between the McInerheney family and the nuns at Killone. Caitlín, a holy-women or nun, was likely to have been an O’Brien and it is conceivable that the tale has a basis in historical fact in pre-reformation Co. Clare. That a Tomás Mac an Oirchinnigh can be identified as a sept-head of the Mac an Oirchinnigh in the fifteenth century adds further weight to the contention that the folktale comprises some historical fact, albeit confused in its historiography.

Other folktales exist regarding the McInerheney family. For example, a folktale from the Sixmilebridge area recounts that:

In early days, Meihan mac Enerheny, a famous warrior, made the huge fort, or rather hill town, of Moghane as a ‘fighting-ring’ for himself. He would never allow his tribe to go to war until he had himself challenged and defeated all the enemy’s chiefs. He reigned in great esteem from the Fergus to the Owennagarna river. In his fighting-ring he always gave his opponents the choice of the sun and wind, in despite of which he overthrew them all. There was no king, nor soldier, nor monster that he feared to fight. His admiring tribe gave him a gold-embroidered cap, and the name of Oircheannach (Golden Head), and he died unconquered.[90]

Westropp commented that the tale was not heard in the local area, but it was likely to be late though perhaps genuine.[91]


Commentary on the Text


Concluding Remarks